Vikalp in Bhopal / Umesh Kumar Sanodiya
Apr 2010 08

‘Young people are the key in the fight against AIDS. By giving them the support they need, we can empower them to protect themselves against the virus. By giving them honest and straightforward information, we can break the circle of silence across all society. Many young people do not go to school, so they need to be reached through community programmes.’

- Umesh Kumar Sanodiya

Vikalp: Searching for Alternatives, A Youth Forum on Social Change was conceptualized by UNESCO and The YP Foundation in 2009 as a practical dialogue space where young activists working on different issues could come together to reflect on best practices, work through challenges, share resources and develop inclusive strategies for promoting youth leadership and movements across India.

The forum brought together 32 young activists from Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Delhi working with communities on sexuality and gender; education; disability; and HIV/AIDS. As an outcome of the forum, we partnered with UNESCO and made available small grants to support the incredible ideas and work that these young people conceptualized during the forum.

The grants have supported a range of activities, from organizational sustainability to collective youth leadership to the development and implementation of local projects. In this series, we share the stories of these powerful young change makers and their work

Spotlight: Umesh Kumar Sanodiya

Umesh Kumar Sanodiya is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work from Bhopal University. He’s also a volunteer at the Family Planning Association India, JIGYASA Youth Centre, Bhopal since 2008. The Regional Technical Center of FPA India has been running ‘JIGYASA’ a Multi Purpose Youth Friendly Center since 2003 in Bhopal that focuses on adolescent reproductive and sexual health issues since its inception. Umesh’s project focussed on working with young people in slum communities in Bhopal to empower them to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, with a view to reduce stigma and discrimination.

20 slum areas of Bhopal were selected on the basis of low literacy rates, poverty, high crime rates, high level aggression and violence, social isolation, unemployment, poor child-parental communication, early involvement in risky behaviour (unprotected sexual activity) and lack of awareness and accessibility to health services. Over the course of 4 months volunteers received issue-based training and they conducted peer facilitation workshops on the above-mentioned issues. As a means towards sustainability, Umesh’s project will be integrated with JIGYASA’s Multi Purpose Youth Friendly Centre run by FPA India. All 20 volunteers and peer educators have taken membership in the JIGYASA governing council so as to provide continued support to the communities the project worked in.

HIV/AIDS is not just a health problem, but also a development problem. By spreading fast mostly to young people and working-age adults, HIV/AIDS affects the economy, society, family and schooling in a country, weakening the country as a whole. The primary objective of the project is to help young people to learn to recognize and avoid risky situations, which there by leads to prevention and control of diseases such as STI’s, HIV and AIDS.

The specific objectives included:

- To increase knowledge and understanding about STI / HIV/AIDS issues amongst young people in Bhopal

- To reduce high risk behavior amongst young people

- To create positive thinking amongst parents towards STI / HIV / AIDS services and information for young people

- To improve life skills amongst young people

    The YP Project and my experience

    I was lucky to work with organization like YP; I was really excited from the starting till the end of this project. It was a good learning period for me. This project was one of its kind, which was implemented by young people – a group of young people that is 20 MSW students.
    In the beginning I met 50 MSW (Masters of Social Work) students from 4 colleges from which I selected 20 students who were capable and really egger to work with me and were interested to join me in this project.

    Moreover this also gave me opportunity to understand what young people thought about issues like HIV/AIDS. Some of the teenagers we were working with thought that AIDS is something for ‘other people’ to worry about – in their words – ‘gay people’, ‘drug users’, ‘people who sleep around’. I explained to them that this is wrong – all teens, whoever they are, wherever they live need to take the threat of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, seriously. To be able to protect yourself, you need to know the facts, and need know how to avoid becoming infected.

    It also gave me an opportunity to develop leadership qualities and how to monitor and manage a team and work together in a supportive way for achievement of common goal. I also came to know about most vulnerable groups that needed support, guidance and information and the remote areas of Bhopal city, where less or no work has been done.

    Young people are the key in the fight against AIDS. By giving them the support they need, we can empower them to protect themselves against the virus. By giving them honest and straightforward information, we can break the circle of silence across all society. Many young people do not go to school, so they need to be reached through community programmes.

    However, the most difficult task is to convince parents that their children need correct and scientific information about issues like HIV /AIDS. Parents should talk openly about sex and sexuality with their children. But many parents find that difficult. They may even lack the knowledge they should be passing on to their young. So adults should also be given correct skills and information.

    My future plan is to empower youth to make independent decisions that promote their health and rights, so that they can be agents for change for themselves and the society at large.

    Talking about HIV/AIDS can be very difficult, but it can also be a matter of life and death. You and others in your community should feel comfortable talking about HIV/AIDS. Keeping quiet about it makes it even more difficult to prevent HIV from spreading further. Many young people don’t believe HIV is a threat to them, and many others don’t know how to protect themselves from HIV. We can all help to reduce the spread of the disease and its impact on everyday life, and remove the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. I am eager to work with young people on issues like HIV/AIDS in future and hope to get opportunities for the same.

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